If you want to hear a great example of professionals doing their job under extreme pressure, check out this audio recording of the controller-pilot conversation during an emergency landing at New Orleans April 4. It’s riveting stuff.
Shortly after takeoff, United flight 497 reported smoke in the cockpit and then a loss of instruments. Controllers guided the aircraft back and cleared a runway. The aircraft involved was an A320, bound for San Francisco.
Here is the link to the audio recording. The first part has regular ATC communications, so fast-forward the recording to 11 minutes 40 seconds, when the emergency develops on flight 497. At this point the pilot says “we need a vector back to the airport, we’ve got a smoke issue with the airplane.”
At 16.10 on the recording, the pilot reports that “we’ve lost all our instruments right now,” with warning alerts audible in the background. He’s still pretty calm considering, although you can definitely tell he’s under stress.
The aircraft eventually landed safely with no injuries, although its nose wheel ended up off the runway. Here’s the link to the initial NTSB statement on the incident.
This is an excerpt: preliminary information indicates that, while climbing through 4,000 feet, the crew reportedly received automated warnings and detected smoke in the cockpit. A loss of primary instrumentation was also reported during the event. The crew indicated that they initiated emergency procedures and turned back to the airport. Upon landing, the crew described a loss of anti-skid braking and nose-wheel steering and exited the runway approximately 2,000 feet from the approach threshold.
Here’s a link to a Bloomberg story on the emergency landing.